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Putting safety first to avoid loss of life

It is incomprehensible that we lost five lives in one day to the treachery of mother nature.

On Tuesday a man and his son died at Tiapapata, when they were suspected of becoming lost and plunged down a steep ravine. The bodies of the two deceased were discovered early Wednesday morning after a 13-hour long rescue operation.

Tragically, on the same day at Neiafu Savai’i, a 39-year-old woman lost her husband and two sons, who were swept away by strong oceanic currents.

The five deaths confirm how precarious human life can be, when juggling with the demands of our everyday lives, while living side-by-side with nature in Samoa. 

Just like our forefathers over thousands of years, our rural communities still live and depend on the land and sea, which can often put them in harm’s way.

The loss of life is devastating and can take its toll on families and the wider community, which is why it is important to take note of the plea by the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (F.E.S.A.) Commissioner, Lelevaga Faafouina Mupo.

Lelevaga made an impassioned plea in the June 11, 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer, when commenting on the deaths of a father and his son at Tiapapata, for members of the public to give priority to safety when out and about.

“In saying that, an example was the incident yesterday, yes we understand that our children are our treasures through the bonds between a parent and a child but we want everyone to understand that losing one life is in a way less of a heartache than losing more than one,” he said.

“But it is true that "O au o matua fanau [the pinnacle of a parents' love are their children] but we must ensure safety first whether it is at home, surrounding environment and at sea.

“It is better to be safe than sorry or prevention is better than cure.”

“This is why on behalf of the Minister, management and staff, we offer a message that our people should take care."

We applaud the action of Lelevaga and F.E.S.A. officers, for continuing to live up to their motto as the “first responders”, and put their bodies on the line. The fact that the rescue operation at Tiapapata lasted 13-hours, says a lot about their courage, dedication to their job, and determination to save a life.

Not forgetting the Police, who are often not far behind, to clear the way and liaise with the community to allow the F.E.S.A. officers to get to work.

We cannot imagine how difficult it must be for Mua’au Saito, after she lost her husband and her two sons on Tuesday afternoon. Living on the big island, fishing is part and parcel of life in Savai’i, which is how disaster struck when the two teenage brothers ran off to fish without waiting for their father.

Our condolences and sympathies with the two families of Upolu and Savai’i, who now have to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives. 

But putting the two incidents and the five fatalities in perspective, we ask ourselves what should be done to prevent such unwarranted loss of life in the future?

The above question brings us back to the appeal from Lelevaga for members of the public to think and put safety first when out at sea or on land. 

The weather can change so quickly in a tropical paradise that is Samoa – hence it pays checking weather updates courtesy of the Samoa Meteorological Service social media pages or television and radio – prior to embarking on a fishing trip or a trek through the forest.

Village councils, in consultation with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E.), should also consider doing a geographical survey of the land and coastal areas within their boundaries. 

The survey will enable them to identify landmarks that could be considered dangerous for public use and look at recommendations to seek Government funding assistance to build safety railings along the edges of the site – including along the coast – to minimise the risk of serious injury including death.

More village council-led awareness, on safety protocols that families in villages can follow when seeking help in times of emergency, can also make a difference between a life and death situation and give villagers a high level of confidence to go about their daily lives knowing someone has them covered.

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